Lydia R. Diamond’s new play, “Stick Fly” is “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” turned inside out. You all remember the 1967 movie in which the beautiful young white woman brings her brilliant black fiancé home to meet her liberal upper-class parents? Well, in “Stick Fly” the parents are upper class, intellectual African-Americans, and the two brothers (one a surgeon, the other an about-to-be published novelist) have brought their girlfriends home to meet them.
“Home” in this case is their elegant summer “cottage” on Martha’s Vineyard that has been owned by their mother’s illustrious family since the 18th century. And it’s not in Oak Bluffs, the traditional African-American community on the island, but in an area where almost all of the neighbors are white. “Although I’ll bet they all wish we’d move to the Bluffs,” the father notes wryly.
“Stick Fly” is a play about race and class and gender issues, about diversity, and about white privilege. It’s also about family relationships, sibling rivalry, and what makes a man a man. All brought to the forefront infused with comedy, anger, resentment, some gripping industrial-strength dialogue, and a few secrets.
The head of the family is Dr. Joseph LeVay (John Wesley), a distinguished neurosurgeon, but an undemonstrative, overbearing father who treats both his sons with undeserved contempt. The older son, Flip (Jason Delane), is merely a plastic surgeon, which doesn’t count for much with his father. The younger son, Kent (Chris Butler), has been acquiring college degrees while he tries to figure out what he wants to do with his life. His successful novel answers that question for him, but not for his father.
Dr. LeVay, however, always true to his own “macho” image, knocks himself out being courtly and charming to the women his sons have brought home.
Kent’s woman is Taylor Bradley Scott (Michole Briana White), an intensely emotional entomologist with father issues. Her father, a renowned prize-winning sociologist, left his family before she was born, and so she is awkward and overly chatty as she tries too hard to “fit in” to this unfamiliar family setting.
Flip’s girlfriend is a stunning white woman, Kimber Davies (Avery Clyde), who confidently displays all the typical pseudo-liberal attitudes of her Peace Corps generation and earns the immediate enmity of almost everybody else, especially Taylor.
Even with all these strong characters, however, the real heart of the play is Cheryl, the 18-year-old “kitchen help” who compels everyone to examine their prejudices, their beliefs, and their behavior. As Cheryl, Tinashe Kajese performs an acting tour de force, being in turn submissive, arrogant, angry, and then, in one thoroughly moving scene, a raving hysteric. While all the other actors, admittedly, are extraordinarily genuine and skilled, she is magnificent.
Also magnificent is John Iacovelli’s set, the inside of a beautifully furnished and stately home, and Christian Epps’ lighting design, which brings in the golden sunlight of early morning on the Vineyard so poignantly that you can almost smell the dew.
Award-winning director Shirley Jo Finney, well known to southern California audiences (her most recent play here was the acclaimed “Yellowman” at the Fountain Theatre), has managed her outstanding cast with a reliable hand as each of them makes their individual Matrix Theatre Company debut. And, as might be anticipated, this sterling production has just been extended for an additional month.
“Stick Fly” will run Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through June 28 at The Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., in Los Angeles. Call (323) 960-7740 for tickets.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.